Wonderwall transforms a Tokyo basement into a virtual house and Zen rock garden for street-wear label Inhabitant
Aric Chen -- Interior Design, 4/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
In retail, displaying merchandise is an art form, which perhaps explains why a lot of stores end up looking like museums. But when high-end street-wear label Inhabitant hired designer Masamichi Katayama, he decided that the $40 trucker hats and $86 T-shirts needed an "abode" where "inhabitants" could gather. The brand's logo, after all, is a house. "And the shop is an inhabitant of Harajuku," he explains, referring to its trendy Tokyo neighborhood. "I wanted to make a home for it."
The 38-year-old designer's firm, Wonderwall, is known for injecting surrealism into mundane retail environments, including such tongue-in-cheek twists as a giant crystal-encased shower in the bathroom-themed Bapy Sapporo, a women's clothing boutique in Hokkaido. In this case, turning a 900-square-foot basement into an abstracted house, complete with a Zen rock garden and a view of Mount Fuji, would take more than smoke and mirrors—although the latter certainly played a significant role.
One enters Inhabitant through an oak-trimmed glass doorway that is analogous to the gate on a traditional Japanese house. Past the threshold, which tempts visitors to take off their shoes (though the store doesn't require it), is a concrete corridor, visually expanded by a mirror at the end. To the right, a second glass door provides entry to the house proper—the main showroom.
Inside, concrete floors and a coffered ceiling, in a typically Japanese honeycomb pattern, lend texture to the softly lit space. Open and glass-enclosed mortar shelves hug two walls, bringing focus to a custom 'Japanese oak table and stools that stand in for a conventional cash-wrap counter. For a little point-of-purchase marketing, the tabletop features a shallow cubby to display graphic stickers and accessories.
While waiting in line to check out, customers are in a prime spot for viewing dramatic mountain or seaside scenes on three video screens behind the cashier. These broadcast live feed from the great outdoors—a substitute for real windows. "You can decide if you'd rather ski or surf," Katayama jests.
Automated sliding-glass doors, framed in more Japanese oak, lead to an "outdoor" room where Katayama created a 320-square-foot courtyard with the panoramic view of Mount Fuji, courtesy of a photomural. Clothes racks line the mirrored sidewalls, reflecting the iconic mountain in an infinite parade. White enameled steel slats on the ceiling diffuse fluorescents for a daylight effect and contrast brightly with honey-colored halogens "inside." Inhabitant's house-shape logo in a 3-D form—made of pebbles glued together—rises in the center.
Wall-to-wall white pebbles blanket the floor, simulating a rock garden. The designer layered rocks 4 inches deep, instead of the standard 1 or 2 inches, to compensate for the lack of soft earth underneath. Taking Japanese hospitality to a new level, Katayama even made sure the rock garden passed a high-heel test—his insurance that it "wouldn't feel so fake."